How to reduce absence through illness this winter

Gemma O'Connor - Head of Service

November 03 2023

First published: November 3rd 2023
Last updated: November 3rd 2023

As the winter sets in and the temperature dips, your staff may become more vulnerable to getting sick.

So, now’s the time to start thinking about how you can help reduce the spread of infection in your workplace.

Because while you can’t stop staff from getting ill, you can take steps to lower the risk of employee illness impacting your operations.

The following steps can help keep your business up and running all winter.

Clamp down on presenteeism

While absenteeism causes its own problems, it’s a good idea to let staff know that ‘it’s okay to be ill.’

Many employees often continue going into work while they’re still unwell and infectious out of fear that not turning up will have a negative impact on their prospects with your business.

However, this “presenteeism” (i.e. the pressure to be present at work) can actually be very damaging for you and your employee. An employee who continues working while they’re ill is likely to struggle to perform, prolong their illness, and spread their illness to others around them. So while you don’t have to manage without an absent employee, you could end up having more people off work sick.

That’s why it’s important to encourage staff to take time off work to recover. If they feel well enough to work, it may be worth allowing them to work from home temporarily if that’s feasible.

Ventilate your workplace

As a general rule, you should make sure your workplace is well-ventilated – especially in enclosed areas.

If your staff work in a poorly-ventilated enclosed space, it’s far more likely that infectious diseases will spread. Making sure your workplace has access to fresh air will help to reduce the risk of transmission.

If you can’t open windows, you should have an air conditioner of some kind installed.

The Health and Safety Authority has recently released a Code of Practice on Indoor Air Quality that goes into greater detail on how to maintain acceptable levels of indoor humidity.

Encourage staff to maintain a clean working environment

Maintaining good hygiene practices in work will also help to reduce the risk of viruses spreading. It’s important to remind staff to be responsible for their own hygiene.

This means washing hands, covering mouths when sneezing or coughing, and keeping surfaces clean.

You could put signs up around the workplace to remind staff to practice good hygiene. You may also want to leave hand sanitisers on desks or provide a communal sanitiser for staff to use.

You can also help maintain hygiene standards by offering protective equipment.

If your staff work in customer-facing roles – like retail and hospitality, healthcare settings, or on reception desks – it’s recommended that you set up protective screens.

While this isn’t mandatory, it can help to protect staff who come into contact with so many people during flu season and prevent the spread of infection.

Review your sickness and absence policy

If you don’t currently have a sickness and absence policy, you need to set one up now to comply with the Sick Leave Act 2022.

Whether you have a standalone policy for sickness or one policy outlining how you deal with all types of absences, it’s important to have it in writing and to communicate it to staff.

Because while you may be able to take steps to help prevent sickness at work, you should be prepared in the event that employees call in sick.

Having a policy gives you and your staff a process to follow if they think they might not be well enough to work.

In your policy, you should include:

  • How to report a sickness absence.
  • How often you’ll be in touch while your employee is off work.
  • How you support employees who are returning to work after a sickness absence (will you hold return to work interviews?)
  • Your statutory sick pay policy as required under the Sick Leave Act 2022

For 2023, your staff have a statutory entitlement to 3 days’ paid sick leave. This entitlement is scheduled to increase to 5 days’ paid sick leave in 2024.

Your sick leave policy should set out the minimum payments for periods of certified sick leave which is 70% of the employee’s usual daily earnings up to a maximum of €110 a day.

Expert HR advice on managing absenteeism

Absenteeism is a major HR concern for Irish businesses of all types and sizes.

To start tackling absence issues, statutory sick pay or any aspect of Irish employment law compliance affecting your business, call one of our HR experts today on 1800 719 216.

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